ILO partners with Malawi Teachers Union to eliminate child labour through school improvements

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has entered into a partnership with Teachers Union of Malawi (TUM) to accelerate the fight against child labour in Malawi through school improvements and better access to education.

In a statement from the United Nations Malawi dated October 1, the partnership — valued at more than MK150 million (US$185,000) — has been established under the ILO ‘ACCEL Africa’ project, funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of The Netherlands.

Charles Kumchenga: TUM Secretary General

The project aims at accelerating the elimination of child labour in global supply chains in Africa in which the ILO will provide TUM with technical and financial support for school improvements and better access to education for child labourers and children at risk of child labour in tea and coffee growing communities in five districts of the country — Chitipa, Mulanje, Mzimba, Ntchisi and Thyolo.

“This partnership comes at a critical time, as CoVID-19 has contributed to rising rates of school dropouts, including because of the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic, as well as periodic school closures,” the statement quotes Charles Kumchenga, TUM secretary-general.

Child labour in Malawi tobacco fields

“Some of the children who have dropped out of school as a result have become involved in child labour. As TUM, this is something that gravely concerns us.”

He also disclosed that TUM has in place a Statement of Professional Ethics and Code of Conduct for Teachers that identifies child labour as a crosscutting issue that the organization needs to play a role in addressing.

The statement also quotes George Okutho, Director of the ILO Country Office for Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique as saying “the partnership will also enable TUM to support access to education for at least 1,000 child labourers and children at risk of child labour”.

He said the financial support will help TUM “to implement innovative solutions to address child labour, including rollout of the ILO’s Supporting Children’s Rights through Education the Arts and the Media (SCREAM) programme in 20 primary schools in the five targeted districts”.

The ILO, of which Malawi has been a member since 1965, brings together governments, employers and workers of 187 countries to set labour standards, develop policies and devise programmes promoting decent work for all women and men.

Malawi learners need better school environment

In December last year, the ILO also signed an action programme with Employers Consultative Association of Malawi (ECAM) to mobilise the country’s private sector in the fight against child labour.

The action programme was to assist ECAM establish a national employer taskforce against child labour and promote child labour elimination policies and practices across the private sector.

It was also to facilitate more and better corporate social responsibility (CSR) investments by companies to address the root causes of child labour in supply chains.

This was also through the ACCEL Africa project funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of The Netherlands at more than MK73 million (about US$100,000).

Child labour is widespread in Malawi with the most recent National Child Labour Survey (NCLS 2015) showing that 38% of children aged 5-17 are involved in child labour, the majority of whom are working in the agriculture sector, and approximately half of whom are engaged in hazardous child labour.

Tea is Malawi’s second-largest export after tobacco, accounting for around 7% of Malawi’s exports, valued at MK70,140 million in 2017, while coffee exports from Malawi amounted to MK2,117 million in 2017, according to the 2019 edition of ‘Malawi in Figures’ published by the Government of Malawi.

In September last year, during a virtual Global Tobacco & Nicotine Forum (GTNF) 2020, it was disclosed that Malawi, which was the only country globally that was red flagged for worst form of child and forced labour, had made moderate advancement in efforts to eliminate this practice.

It was reported that on November 1, 2019, the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued a withhold release order (WRO) on tobacco and products containing tobacco from Malawi.

And upon receiving the WRO, importers were supposed to engage themselves and demonstrate that no child or forced labour was used in the production of tobacco goods.

The 2020 GTNF was to discuss strides being made globally in, among other issues, phasing out cigarettes and other high-risk tobacco products and transitioning smokers to reduced-risk alternatives.

In her presentation, Fran Malila, corporate affairs manager for Alliance One International (AOI) Malawi, reported that Malawi has various pieces of legislation that prohibit the use of child labour, forced labour, forced child labour.

The country also has an enabling legislative framework to combat child labour and child forced labour and promote a decent work environment — through the Tobacco Industry Act (2019) which became effective on February 22, 2019, which has provisions to ensure child labour elimination efforts and other labour-related rights.

There are also ongoing training and extension services help farmers continuously improve their crop and labour practices and as of the 2018-2019 crop year, some tobacco companies directed that no person under the age of 18 years should be involved in any tobacco-related activities.

This, Malila had said, affords greater protection than the Malawi Prohibition of Hazardous Work Act, which allows 16-18 year-olds to work in the tobacco industry — provided they are trained and supervised by an adult.

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